I've spent the weekend doing some soul-searching on spring football, which is a scary thing and even scarier to admit. So thank you to the 50-something-year-old Husker fan who stopped me on Monday and had one simple question.
"What do you think about Jahlil?"
That would be Jahlil Okafor, the five-star sophomore center from Chicago (and No. 2 recruit in the country for 2014), who visited Lincoln on Saturday with a group of Chicago high school hoopers looking for a place to take their talents. The guy didn't even mention the Biggs story of the day, Deverell Biggs, former Omaha Central point guard, committing to NU.
Fans complained about the lack of buzz when Tim Miles was introduced as head coach a few weeks ago. Well, Miles has created his own buzz. There's no buzz like recruiting buzz.
Miles is off to a fast start. He's all but cleaned house of players who weren't likely to fit in. He's been a madman on Twitter. He's had pizza with NU students. But what Miles was able to get done this weekend may turn out to be the biggest weekend Husker Hoops has had in several years, on two fronts.
One, landing Biggs. Miles just tapped into Omaha Central, the state's marquee name in high school hoops. This not only puts Husker Hoops on the radar with local high school coaches and players, it may open a pipeline that would send 6-foot-9 Akoy Agau down the interstate to join his friend in the near future. That would be, well, Bigg.
We all know that Nebraska high school basketball isn't exactly Indiana or Illinois. You don't make a living off it. But Nebraska has traditionally produced kids who would be terrific role players — or even better — if developed. Former coach Barry Collier's local heroes got good after leaving Nebraska — he didn't develop them. Doc Sadler didn't get them, period. Had Doc been able to land an Elliott Eliason or a Mike Gesell, he might still be here today. That's the other thing: Local kids add local flavor and can provide hope and a connection to local fans.
The Chicago Six, though, might be bigger than Biggs. They went home and spread the word on their favorite social media outlets that they had a blast at Nebraska. Okafor tweeted that he liked the name "Nebrasketball." This is big stuff because other high school hot shots pay attention to such matters; they stay in touch with the other hot shots around the country. If big-name kids from the Windy City thought that Nebraska was cool, others may want to find the state on a map.
So even if Miles doesn't land one of the Chicago Six, it's enough for now that he got them on campus as free advertising to the rest of the Air Jordan-wearing world. The thing about recruiting, you are often associated with the company you keep. This was good company. Now if Miles can get one of these kids to sign, we'll get him a refundable ticket to next year's spring game.
• One final thought on the spring game: Treat it like a festival. A celebration of all things Nebraska football. Bring the alumni back. Get the students involved. Let some students call plays in the scrimmage. Hold a golf tournament. Have a players' talent show. Hold your fan day here. Make it so much fun that TV has to cover it. The "Midnight Madness" at Kansas basketball comes to mind. Have the biggest spring football spectacle in the country. This would be a big recruiting tool. Kids would pay attention to this.
Sounds crazy, right? I'm convinced that this is what the spring game should be. The important stuff that happens in the spring will always be behind closed doors. Meanwhile, the 29 practices in the fall are far more significant than the 15th spring practice. Use it to your advantage. The spring game is already all about recruiting. That's why it wasn't played on Sunday.
• Rex Burkhead embodies what the Heisman Trophy is supposed to be about (but rarely is). But Nebraska fans should hope that if a Husker competes for the hardware this fall, that Taylor Martinez is that guy. If Martinez is putting up Heismanesque numbers, that means Nebraska's offense is humming and the team is doing quite well. As great as Burkhead is, and valuable, Martinez is more valuable to the fortunes of 2012. He has to play well for NU to make its move.
• The words "Purdue" and "meaningful baseball series" don't often belong in the same sentence. But they do this weekend at Haymarket Park. At this point, Nebraska is just trying to make the conference tournament for the first time in three years. Winning a conference road series on Sunday was a big step. Winning a series from first-place Purdue and pulling closer toward the top is the next step. Wonder how many times the Boilers will pitch to Josh Scheffert.
• I'm glad to see Mike Hastings get his shot as head coach at Minnesota State, and UNO fans should be, too. Dean Blais isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and I'd like to see Hastings coach his own Division I program before handing the keys over to a coach-in-waiting. If Hastings does well, which many Omaha hockey fans predict, he can always come back to Omaha, a place he and his family have called home for many years. The Crookston, Minn., native also might settle in at Mankato, especially with a $225,000 annual salary. Either way, at least UNO will know what Hastings can do as a head coach.
• It will be very interesting to see if Creighton can land Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff. The high mid-majors have been able to land BCS transfers in recent years. CU is set up to be one of those landing spots. The Jays got Gregory Echenique from Rutgers, but Wisconsin is a bigger name.
• Looks like we don't have to play the 2012-13 college basketball season. ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi released a pre-pre-preseason Bracketology on Monday. He's got Creighton in as a No. 6 seed, playing St. Mary's in Kansas City. He's got seven Big Ten teams in, but no Nebraska (no surprise) and no Iowa (mild surprise). His No. 1 seeds were Kentucky, Kansas, Louisville and Indiana. Didn't we just see that?
• Our thoughts and prayers to an old friend of Omaha, former Creighton soccer coach Bob Warming, whose daughter, Audrey, was killed Sunday morning in a car crash. Warming is now the head coach at Penn State.
• Ryan Tannehill? Sorry, Chiefs fans. If you're going to take a flier on a Big 12 quarterback in this draft, I'd rather have Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State. Better arm, poise in the pocket and he makes more plays that win games. Weeden completed almost 100 more passes and had 1,000 more yards than Tannehill last year, and he was more than just Justin Blackmon's caddy.
• NASCAR champ Tony Stewart wants to remember his dirt-track roots, and that means he'll be at Eagle Raceway on Saturday night to race in the Ice Breaker Challenge. Stewart, who won a race at Eagle back in 1994, also hopes to race at Eagle on Friday night if his NASCAR schedule allows. Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for kids ages 6 to 12, while kids under 5 are free.
• Finally, a bittersweet fist bump to an old friend, Marc Hansen, longtime sports and metro columnist at the Des Moines Register. Hansen took an early buyout from the paper last week and wrote his last column in Sunday's Register. We were roommates at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, and again in 1996 in Atlanta. He's been a classy voice of Iowa and a master storyteller, which is often a lost art these days in a media that likes to scream. It's been a tough year for my old press box fraternity. Mike DeArmond of the Kansas City Star and Dave Sittler (a former Omaha World-Herald writer and columnist) of the Tulsa World also announced their retirements.
Don't look at me. I have three weddings to pay for. Or, as Creighton volleyball coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth once told me, "You need wedding scholarships."
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